How melanoma is diagnosed
Usually your GP will examine you first. If they think you may have a melanoma, they should refer you to a doctor with specialist training in diagnosing skin conditions (a dermatologist).
If you have a suspected melanoma, you should be seen within a couple of weeks by a dermatologist. Your appointment will probably be at a skin clinic or at a pigmented lesion clinic (a special clinic for diagnosing melanomas early). Some people may see a plastic surgeon rather than a dermatologist. They are also experienced in melanoma.
The specialist will examine your mole and ask you questions about how long you’ve had it and any changes you’ve noticed. They usually also examine the rest of your skin to see if you have any other unusual moles.
Some specialists may look at your moles with a small, hand-held instrument called a dermatoscope. This gives a bigger and clearer picture of the mole. Your specialist will know a lot from looking at your mole. Knowing whether the mole has changed over time and how is also important. If they think you may have a melanoma, they will advise you to have the whole mole removed. They may also take pictures (with your permission) of other moles that you have, so they can check whether they change. You may see a specialist skin cancer nurse, who will give you information and support.
Having your mole removed (excision biopsy)
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Your doctor will need to remove your mole to find out what it is. This is known as an excision biopsy.
Before it’s removed, your doctor will explain the procedure to you. You will have a small scar afterwards. You will be asked to sign a form saying that you give your permission (consent) for the mole to be removed.
Once you’re lying down comfortably, your doctor will inject a local anaesthetic into the area around the mole. This will numb the area so you don’t feel any pain. They’ll cut out the whole mole and 2mm of normal skin around it. Your doctor will close the wound using stitches. These will be removed after 5–14 days, depending on where the mole was. Some people may have stitches that dissolve, which don’t need to be removed.
The mole is then examined under a microscope by a pathologist (an expert in cells) to see if any melanoma cells are present.
Waiting for test results
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Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your excision biopsy to be ready. You may find it helpful to talk with your partner, family or a close friend. Your specialist nurse can provide support, or you can talk to one of our cancer support specialists.